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By Dr. Cris Haltom
What can parents do if a child is binge eating? Here are eight tips.
1. Binge eating is usually associated with shame and secrecy. Once binge eating is discovered BE SENSITIVE AND SUPPORTIVE to your child, even if you feel angry or scared. Your child is likely struggling with guilt and shame about having his or her binge eating exposed.
2. If you haven't already, seek PROFESSIONAL CONSULTATION for your child's binge eating problem. There is a high likelihood there are serious problems such as negative body image, mood disorders and/or other eating disorder symptoms accompanying the binge eating.
3. LOOK FOR SIGNS of binge eating: These might include but aren't limited to snack food wrappers hidden in the car or around the house, concealed signs of vomiting (e.g., plastic bags with vomit in trash cans), large amounts of particular foods missing from the kitchen, food stuffed into the mouth without really chewing, eating twice as fast as the average person, stealing food from the store, eating discarded food, and spending excessive amounts of money for food.
4. EAT WITHOUT DISTRACTION AT FAMILY MEALS: A common pattern in people with disordered eating is to watch television, listen to loud music, read or use some other form of distraction in order to prevent self-awareness of eating. Suffering youth don't like to admit to themselves they are eating - so they enter a trance-like state where thinking about eating is pushed away by simultaneously eating and engaging in a distracting activity.
5. Binge eating can be expensive. Unless your treatment team suggests otherwise, have your older child take some kind of responsibility for REPLACING OR REPLENISHING FAMILY FOOD which has been eaten during binges.
6. Don't communicate YOUR VIGILANCE about your own intake of fat, carbohydrates, or desert foods to your child. If this is something you have already been doing, it is never too late to curtail your comments. While your vigilance about foods may be good for you, it may contribute to restricting and binge eating in your child.
7. ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO EAT a wide variety of foods in moderate portions and to eat every three to four hours. Letting too much time go by between eating episodes or eating too little increases the risk of binge eating because of increased physiological pressures to eat.
8. Remember that your child, especially an older CHILD, HAS TO WANT TO STOP binge eating. You didn't cause the binge eating and you can't control it or cure it. You can encourage good eating habits, discourage dieting (unless medically recommended), provide correct information about the nature and consequences of binge eating, and get professional help for your child.
Binge eating often has its origins in childhood, especially in adolescence. Binge Eating Disorder affects four million Americans. It can be more effectively treated when recognized and treated during childhood.
Fairburn, Christopher (1995) Overcoming Binge Eating, New York, The Guilford Press.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), "Working Together" Newsletter, Summer 2001, Summer 2003.
Bulik, Cynthia M. et al (2003) "Genetic and environmental contributions to obesity and binge eating," The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33:3, 293-298.
Eating Disorders Review (2003) "Binge eating can begin early in life," Gurze Publications, 14:3, 7.
Cris Haltom has a Ph.D. from Cornell University. She is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Ithaca, N. Y. Cris is an Approved Supervisor (#110) for the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. She is available for training, presentations, and workshops. She has published articles, co-edited a text book, appeared on cable television, taught workshops, and taught academic courses as adjunct faculty at Cornell University and other colleges.
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